A Woman’s Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women’s Rights

Collage images of Alice Paul, suffrage action, and the Sewall-Belmont House

(Images courtesy of the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration)

This lesson is part of the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program.

In 1929, the restless leaders of the National Woman's Party bought a house on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, to be their new headquarters. Over a decade had passed since its members picketed the White House and went to prison for their political activism, and nearly a decade since they persuaded Americans to care about women's suffrage. While many of the suffrage veterans thought the war was won, its founder Alice Paul did not rest. For her, the fight for the 19th Amendment was just the first battle in a longer struggle.

Dedicated to erasing discriminatory laws that she believed kept women from being free and equal citizens, Paul lived at the strategic headquarters of the organization she started. Paul and the NWP lobbied Congress to support federal legislation like the first proposed Equal Rights Amendment, which Paul drafted in 1921.

She never saw the ERA realized, as it was never ratified by the necessary number of states. But the legacy of her fierce determination can be found in the 19th Amendment, the United Nations Charter, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Tucked among federal office buildings, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Capitol, the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the National Woman's Party, stands today in the center of American government as a women's history museum, archive, and monument.

About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places nominations for the "Sewall-Belmont House" (with photos), as well as on material from the collection of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party, library. It also uses material from the National Woman's Party Papers in the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress and documentation on the house prepared for the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey, also at the Library of Congress. The lesson was written by Kathleen Hunter, Marilyn Harper, and Katie Orr, and edited by the Teaching with Historic Places staff. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum
Topics: This lesson could be used in United States history courses in units on early 20th century reform movements, women's history, civil rights, and civic engagement.
Time period: 20th century

Relevant United States History
Standards for Grades 5-12

A Woman’s Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women’s Rights
relates to the following National Standards for History:

Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America 1890-1930
  • Standard 1C: The student understands the limitations of Progressivism and the alternatives offered by various groups.
  • Standard 3A: The student understands the cultural clashes and their consequences in the postwar era.
  • Standard 3D: The student understands politics and international affairs in the 1920s.
Era 9: Postwar United States (1945-early 1970s)
  • Standard 4B: The student understands the women's movement for civil rights and equal opportunities.

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
National Council for the Social Studies

A Woman’s Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women’s Rights
relates to the following Social Studies Standards:

Theme IV: Individual Development and Identity
  • Standard C - The student describes the ways family, gender, ethnicity, nationality, and institutional affiliations contribute to personal identity.
Theme V: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Standard B- The student analyzes group and institutional influences on people, events, and elements of culture.
  • Standard E- The student identifies and describes examples of tensions between belief systems and government policies and laws.
  • Standard F- The student describes the role of institutions in furthering both continuity and change.
Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance
  • Standard H- The student explains and applies concepts such as power, role, status, justice, and influence to the examination of persistent issues and social problems.
Theme X: Civic Ideals and Practices
  • Standard E- The student explains and analyzes various forms of citizen action that influence public policy decisions.
  • Standard F- The student identifies and explains the roles of formal and informal political actors in influencing and shaping public policy and decision-making.
Objectives for students
1) To compare and contrast early 20th century pro-suffrage organizations.
2) To conduct an oral history interview about 20th century life and to critique the subject's reliability.
3) To trace laws that expanded or restricted political liberties in the United States over time.
4) To seek out examples of injustice in their community and to provide possible solutions.
5) To identify ways Americans can influence their government apart from voting.
Materials for students
The materials listed below can either be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students. The maps and images appear twice: in a low-resolution version with associated questions and alone in a larger, high-resolution version.
1) One map of Washington, DC, labeled to show the Sewall-Belmont House and other sites associated with Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party;
2) Four readings on Alice Paul and suffrage, Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party after ratification of the 19th Amendment, Anna Wiley's speech during a reception at Sewall-Belmont House, and an oral history about Alice Paul and the headquarters;
3) Four photographs of National Woman's Party members, Alice Paul, and the Sewall-Belmont House;
4) Two drawings of the Sewall-Belmont House second floor plan and a 1977 poster commemorating Alice Paul's life.
Visiting the site
The Sewall-Belmont House is located at 144 Constitution Avenue, Northeast, in Washington, DC, next to the Hart Senate Building. It is the headquarters of the historic National Woman's Party and a National Historic Site, administered in partnership with the National Park Service. Public tours are available weekly, but are restricted to certain days and times. For more information, call 202-546-1210 or visit the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party, website.

Getting Started

Inquiry Question
B&W image of women working in an office space

(Photo courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party)

What do you think is happening in this photo?

Setting the Stage

The struggle for civic equality and the broadening of enfranchisement is a common theme in American history. Different groups at different times organized to fight – some violently and others peacefully – for the right to vote and to take part in American democracy. These struggles to expand freedom for excluded groups included many ordinary Americans, but a few became important leaders whose lives we know about today because of their work.

American women started organizing as distinct political groups in the middle of the 19th century. Women organized for many different charitable, social, religious, and political causes. Historians tend to place the beginning of the broad American women's rights movement at Seneca Falls in 1848, when women and some men gathered to discuss the state of women's liberty in the United States. This was the Seneca Falls Convention, attended and organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The 13-point Declaration of Rights and Sentiments that the convention produced pointed out that, among other grievances about their civic and social status, women were prevented from voting. Though there were many issues women's rights activists were involved in – sometimes on opposing sides – by the end of the century it was the right to vote that all feminists wanted and so suffrage became a widely recognized goal.

One major women's organization from this era that survived through to the end of the struggle for the right to vote was the National American Women's Suffrage Association. This organization formed in 1890 when members of competing women's suffrage organizations compromised for the sake of keeping the pro-suffrage movement afloat. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were the first presidents of the NAWSA. This popular organization attracted millions of members in hundreds of chapters across the United States during its lifetime. It focused on gaining suffrage state-by-state.

By 1919, women had state and local voting rights in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho Washington, California, Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, New York, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. They could vote for the president in Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Most states gave these voting rights during the 1910s. The exceptions were Wyoming, Utah, Washington, and Montana, which gave full voting rights to women in the 19th century when they were territories. The Alaska territory gave women full voting rights in 1913. All American women gained the Constitutional right to vote when the states ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Locating the Site

Map 1: National Woman's Party in Washington, DC.
Map of DC with specific sites numbered

(National Park Service)

The National Woman's Party (NWP), a woman's rights organization, moved its headquarters four times between 1913 and 1929. The first home was a basement office at 1420 F Street, NW [1]. In 1916, the National Woman's Party moved to Cameron House, at 21 Madison Place, NW [2]. A year later they moved to 14 Jackson Place [3] and stayed there for five years. From 1922 to 1929, the NWP was located in a complex of four row houses at 21-25 First Street, NE [4]. In 1929, the NWP moved for the last time—to the Sewall-Belmont House [5].

Questions for Map 1

1)Where is the Capitol? Where is the White House? Where are the National Woman's Party headquarters? What other major landmarks can you find near it?

2)What benefits are there for a civil rights organization to be near the White House and what benefits to be near the Capitol? Why do you think an organization fighting for new laws might choose to be near the President and Congress?

3)Women's suffrage activists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1913 before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. Find Pennsylvania Avenue on the map. Why do you think the activists chose this route? Can you think of any other events that happen on Pennsylvania Avenue?

4) Do you think a civil rights organization today would want to make its headquarters where the NWP did in the 1910s/1920s? If you had a cause, what government building would you want to be near? Why

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: Alice Paul and the Struggle for Women's Suffrage
Women gained the right to vote in 1920 when the states ratified the 19th Amendment. Before that, only women in western states could vote in public elections. The struggle for suffrage (the right to vote) was a long battle. For 70 years, many men and women had worked to change the laws that stopped women voting. One of those women was Alice Paul, a civil rights activist from New Jersey. She founded the National Woman's Party and organized big, public spectacles in Washington, DC, to win national support for a Constitutional amendment to give women voting rights.

Alice Paul learned how to get people's attention from English activists. Before Paul worked for women's rights in the United States, she worked for them in England. She moved to England in 1907 and became involved that country's women's suffrage movement. She participated in parades, street meetings, and protests that led to her arrest and imprisonment. When she was in jail, Paul took part in hunger strikes and was force-fed. Along with other women, Paul was held down and forced to take in food through a tube. When she returned to the United States in 1910, Paul joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and three years later she went to Washington, DC, as the chairman of the association's Congressional Union.

The Congressional Union was not a priority for the NAWSA when Paul arrived in Washington. The association did not want to use its money and volunteers to support a Constitutional amendment. It focused its efforts on changing state laws, not federal ones. However, Paul made an amendment her goal and found supporters. She and her ally Lucy Burns rented a basement apartment near the White House to be their headquarters. From there the two women began a campaign to secure a women's suffrage.

Paul believed publicity would help her cause. She wanted newspaper coverage to keep suffrage on the minds of Americans across the country. After a few months in Washington, Paul and a small group of activists organized a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. She planned this parade for the day before President Woodrow Wilson's 1913 inauguration. Over 5,000 women came from all over the United States and from other countries to participate. Male spectators harassed the women. They yelled and then physically attacked them. The police did nothing. The spectacle and the violence made woman's suffrage front-page news across the country.

Alice Paul's protests and her focus on getting a suffrage amendment passed did not go over well with the NAWSA leaders. On top of that, the NAWSA did not side with or single out a political party while Paul loudly criticized whichever party had the most power. Paul and the NAWSA leaders supported a suffrage amendment, but they believed in different tactics. Paul's group left the NAWSA after several years in Washington because of these differences. She and her allies in Washington renamed their group the “National Woman's Party” by 1916 and continued their work. They lost the benefits of being connected to the NAWSA, but by then they had the financial and social support of Alva Belmont.

Belmont was a very wealthy and famous American socialite from New York. She was also a feminist who worked for political rights for women in the United States and in Europe. She met Paul in 1913 and was impressed by her bold activism. Like Paul, Belmont was not happy with the NAWSA's slow progress. Belmont supported the Congressional Committee. She stayed with the group after it became the National Woman's Party. She did not participate in the protests, but her large donations and connections were important for the women's movement. With Belmont's support, the NWP kept its fashionable headquarters near the White House.1

Paul's organization lobbied Congress and put pressure on President Wilson. They also used more public forms of action, including parades, pageants, street speaking, and demonstrations. In early 1917, the president was not persuaded, so the NWP adopted tactics that were more aggressive and more confrontational. They picketed the White House from Lafayette Square. They also burned Wilson's speeches in public fires.This is a common tactic for activists today, but they were the first group to do this in American history. The picket lines continued for months, rain or shine.

During World War I, some Americans thought Alice Paul and her White House picketing was unpatriotic. Women on the picket line were attacked by bystanders and sometimes by soldiers. Police were there, but they either did nothing or they arrested the protestors. Alice Paul was arrested in October 1917 and sentenced to seven months in prison. For the second time in her life, she went on a hunger strike and again the prison officials responded with forced feeding. Women of the NWP demanded to be considered political prisoners rather than criminals. Of the thousands of women who served on the picket line organized by Paul, about 500 were arrested, and 168 served prison sentences.2 Paul’s methods worked and newspapers reported on the arrests. The public was shocked to hear about the hunger strikes and violent, forced-feedings in jail. News coverage increased public support for an amendment.

The campaigns of the National Woman's Party eventually forced Wilson to support a federal amendment that would give women the right to vote.3 On June 4, 1919, the Senate passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment for equal suffrage. It had already been passed a number of times by the House of Representatives. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the necessary three-quarters of the states and became law shortly before the election of 1920. This was 42 years after it was submitted to Congress for the first time. The Amendment states:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Alice Paul is a well-known person in American history, but she was not the only person who worked for woman's suffrage and historians sometimes disagree about how important she was to the movement. Some argue that she inspired “profound and unquestioning loyalty” in her followers and caused extreme distrust by her detractors.4 Ex-Congressional Union member Charlotte Whitney called it an “autocratic organization with its controls entirely in the hands of one woman” and many people thought that description applied to the National Woman's Party, as well.5 However, according to historian William F. O'Neill, “Other leaders were widely admired, even loved, but Miss Paul was the only one whose example led women of all ages and stations to risk jail and worse."6

Questions for Reading 1
1) Who was Alice Paul? How did she contribute to American democracy?

2) How did Alice Paul and the other female activists get the public to care about their struggle for voting rights? Do you know of any other famous activists, in the US or another country, who went to extremes to draw attention to injustice? Do you think their suffering was worth their success?

3) Who was Alva Belmont? How did she help the women's movement? Do you think she is as important as Alice Paul? Why or why not?

4) How do multiple perspectives, like the ones in the last paragraph, help us think about the complexity of important historical figures? What evidence is there in the reading that Alice Paul was controlling? What evidence is there that she was charismatic and loved?

Reading 1 is adapted from the “Alva Belmont House (Washington, DC)” National Historic Landmark nomination, written by Carol Ann Poh, from biographical material on Alice Paul developed by the Sewall-Belmont house, and from the website “Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party,” created by the American Memory Program at the Library of Congress.

For a lesson plan devoted specifically to the National Woman's Party fight for passage of the 19th Amendment, see the TwHP lesson, Lafayette Park: First Amendment Rights on the President's Doorstep.

1 Hoffert, Sylvia, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont: Unlikely Champion of Women's Rights (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University, 2012), 89-106.
2 Lunardini, Christine. From Equal Suffrage to Equal Rights (New York, NY: New York University, 2000), 138.
3 Baker and Dodd, Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson, V, 264-267. Quoted in Lunardini, Introduction, xiii.
4 Lunardini, 2000.
5 Charlotte Whitney to Mrs. William Kent, September 26, 1915. National Woman's Party Papers.
6 O'Neill, Lawrence. Feminism in America: A History. (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2009).

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The ERA and a new home on Capitol Hill

The National Woman's Party (NWP) did not break up after the women's suffrage movement ended. In 1921, the party leaders and members debated the organization's future. Some of its members believed the NWP achieved its goal, but its founder and its president believed the struggle for equal rights for women was not over. Alice Paul and Alva Belmont wanted the NWP to stay in Washington, DC, and to push for more laws to support women's rights. Most important of these laws was a proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This amendment would support total equal legal status between men and women in the United States.

Washington, DC, continued to be the center of National Woman's Party activity throughout the 20th century. The organization moved from Lafayette Park to Capitol Hill after the states ratified the 19th Amendment. Its leading members wanted to be close to Congress, not the president. In 1922, they moved into the Old Brick Capitol (which had temporarily housed Congress after the 1814 burning of the Capitol). Seven years later, that building was demolished to make space for a new Supreme Court building. In 1929, the NWP moved to a house located a block away from the Capitol. They named it the Alva Belmont House to honor the organization's president. Some NWP members lived there as well as worked there.

Alice Paul was active in the party during its second phase. In 1922 she reorganized the NWP with the goal of eliminating all discrimination against women. In 1923 Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and launched what would be for her a life-long campaign to win full equality for women. She also worked on a law degree at a nearby university and studied state laws that discriminated against women.1 She wrote the first version of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment when she was a law student in 1921:

“Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”

Paul believed that getting an ERA passed would be the end of the feminist movement's struggle for legal equality in the United States.2 Not all veterans of the suffrage movement agreed with Paul. During the 1910s, the National Woman's Party and the National American Women's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) did not agree on tactics but they both wanted women to have the right to vote. The activists went in different directions once the 19th Amendment was ratified. The NAWSA became the League of Women Voters. This group focuses on registering women to vote, not on laws. The NWP stayed involved in politics and its remaining members supported an Equal Rights Amendment.

Paul and other members of the NWP thought equal suffrage was the first step toward making all laws equal for men and women. Other veteran members of the women's suffrage movement disagreed. These women had worked for years to get politicians to pass laws to improve working conditions and provide special benefits for women, like maternity leave and a minimum wage. These women feared that an ERA would make these benefits unconstitutional.3 They hoped that once they could vote they could get more women-specific laws passed. Another reason women opposed the ERA was they feared the changes in society and in private life that the ERA might bring. These differences split the broad women's rights movement into smaller movements in the 1920s.4

The ERA was its primary goal after the vote, but the NWP did more than support an ERA. The organization wrote federal, state, and local legislation about divorce and child custody rights, jury service, and property rights. Some of this legislation became law. Alice Paul traveled to Europe and South America to work for women's rights in international politics. She founded the World Woman's Party in Switzerland in 1938. She also worked with the League of Nations and the United Nations to make sure international groups remembered women's rights. She returned to the United States in 1941 and moved into the NWP headquarters. In Washington, Paul influenced Congress to outlaw sex discrimination when it passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This achieved some of the goals of an ERA.5

The current proposed version of the ERA reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States on account of sex.” The NWP continued to advocate for the ERA into the 1960s when they were joined by groups like the “National Organization for Women.” Congress passed the ERA in 1972, but it has not been adopted. This is because it has never received the required ratification by three-quarters of the states. Alice Paul passed away in 1977. The ERA is still introduced in every session of Congress. Alice Paul passed away in 1977. The ERA is still introduced in every session of Congress.

National Woman’s Party headquarters became a public museum and archive in 1997. Its name today is the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum. The first part of the name comes from the original Robert Sewall family, who built the house in 1800 and rebuilt it after an 1814 fire. The name also honors benefactor Alva Vanderbilt Belmont. The house is still one of the oldest residences on Capitol Hill. The staff of the historic National Woman’s Party cares for the archive, house, and museum. It also offers educational tours and public programs; these programs celebrate women’s continued progress for women’s equality.

Questions for Reading 2
1) What is the Equal Rights Amendment? Why didn't some people support it in the 1920s?

2) List several ways the National Woman's Party worked for women's rights after the 19th Amendment. Do you think they were successful?

3) Even though she dedicated her life to women's rights, Alice Paul is famous for her leadership during the 1910s. Looking at Readings 1 and 2, why do you think she is remembered primarily for that?

4) Why did the NWP put pressure on Congress, not the president, after the 19th Amendment passed? How did the female activists' relationship with Congress change after they gained the right to vote?

Reading 2 is adapted from the “Alva Belmont House (Washington, DC)” National Historic Landmark nomination, written by Carol Ann Poh, from biographical material on Alice Paul developed by the Sewall-Belmont house, and from the website “Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party,” created by the American Memory Program at the Library of Congress.

1 Butler, Amy. Two Paths to Equality: Alice Paul and Ethel M. Smith in the Era Debate, 1921 -1929 (State University of New York at Binghamton, 1997).
2 Equal Rights Amendment: Questions and Answers prepared by the Research Department of the National Woman's Party, Document No. 164, 87th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1963), 3.
3 Ware, Susan. Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).
4 Cope, Margaret. "THE ALVA BELMONT HOUSE (1953)" in "Sewall-Belmont House," National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1972.
5 Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, "Historical Overview of the National Woman's Party." Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Accessed online.

Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Listening to History: It Was All So Breathless

Butler Franklin was born in 1899 and died in 2003. At the time of this interview she was 96 years old, partially blind and deaf, living at Fall Hill, her family's home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ms. Franklin knew Alice Paul through her aunt, Alva Belmont.

Partial transcript of an interview with Butler Franklin by Kathleen Hunter, tape-recorded February 1995.

Question: What I'd like to do is start with your telling me about living at the Sewall-Belmont House--what it was like to live there? Where did you live in the house?
She [Alice Paul] gave me . . . a little secret room and it had its own secret stairway. It had a private little bathroom and everything.

Question: Where is it exactly? Is it in the front of the house or the back of the house?
In the back of the house out of the the right of the kitchen . . . goes a little stairway up and into that lovely room. It's a big room. It's properly finished.

Question: That was your private room?
Yes. My private room. She gave it to me night and day. See, I had a long trip home [to Fredericksburg] every day from my job. So in the evening I would go over there and spend it with her for a while. And then I gave up my job in'62 and worked for her full time.

Question: From when? From'62 to when?
I was with her for 3...4 years.

Question: So all that time you lived at the Sewall-Belmont House?
No, I lived here [in Fredericksburg], and I commuted every day . . . into Washington. Then, Miss Paul made it easier for me when she let me use that room. I could spend a night or two in town.

And one night I went in and she said, "Now Butler, this is important. We have a Congressman, Mr. Smith, Howard Smith, and he's head of the Rules Committee, and he is going to have presented to him today 'Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex.' And it's our own idea and its our own conception. And he says that if his constituency will agree to it, he will present it as a law. Now," she said, "you are his constituency. You're the only one we know. And you live right there in Fredericksburg where he lives. Now you go home tonight in your little car and take your little typewriter and put it on your dining room table and write out a letter to him and bring it back in the morning and give it to him. And he will present it when the Rules Committee meets tomorrow."1

So it all went like clock work, like everything did that she planned like that. And we wrote the letter and I signed it and both of us took it the next morning and gave it to him, and we watched as he turned and handed it to his secretary. He said, "Now, would you read this? Would you agree to this?" And the secretary said, "Oh, yes sir! Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex. That would be wonderful." He said, "Then I'll do it." And he did it, and it passed [the Rules Committee]. And it's been going around ever since, every year in the United States, and it has very nearly passed several times, but not quite yet. But some day it will.

Question: So you lived there for 4 years in the house. Were you a volunteer there? Were you staff?
Sort of a volunteer. I don't remember getting paid, or ever taking a penny for anything. I paid my meals.

Question: Were you the only person living there besides . . .
Oh, no. We had 4 or 5 friends of Alice Paul's.

Question: Were they all working for the National Woman's Party?
I think they were. That's why they were there. I don't think she would have wanted anyone else. It was so intense.

Question: So, there were bedrooms in the house? I want to talk a little bit about what the house looked like.
Oh, it had at least four big bedrooms with baths.

Question: What kind of events happened in the house for the Woman's Party. Did you have any important meetings . . .?
All the time. All the time. She constantly had two secretaries working all the time and the stuff would pile up on the dining room table. The big parlor was on the left, then across the hall was the front sort of library, and behind that was the work room, and then a little office for her off to the left. And on the stairway that went up to those big bedrooms was the marvelous alabaster statue of Joan of Arc that was given to Mrs. Belmont for this be put in this house...that is there now I understand.

Question: What was the work room like?
Two or three typewriters going, girls milling around, meals coming and going. There was one maid that stayed all the time, a cook that came and went and prepared all meals, and quietly Alice kept track of it all to make sure we paid for what we were eating, but we didn't have to pay too much. Money was not a bother for some reason.

Question: What were some of the most dramatic things that happened in the house while you were there-- with the National Woman's Party?
It was all exciting. Because she had a stream of things..."Oh, the President is coming tonight girls." Everybody came.

Interviewer's comment: So it sounds to me that one of Miss Paul's strategies was to get influential Congresspersons and other leaders into the Sewall-Belmont House and give them tea and just talk to them, and to use her allies, like you, to single out leaders. And so, she worked with the leadership and tried to persuade the leaders, as much as organize the mass of people.

Question: Did you have social events at the house?
She was always calling the little maid to bring the long linen and the best tea cups and we would sit there in the parlor to be a social event [unintelligible] depending on who was arriving. It wasn't the main thing. The main thing was to get whatever law she was interested in, or get what points she wanted to make done.

Question: Were there parties?
Never as we know them. No. Everything was for a purpose. Not just a get together. You would come together naturally when it was necessary, but I don't remember parties as parties.

Question: She was always strategizing?
Oh yes.

Question: [Can you tell me about] any little memory you have about what it was like to live in that house, or the things that went on in that house?
They seemed so important and so tremendous, and we were so unaccustomed to being important. It was all so breathless. It was an amazing experience.

[Interviewer asks about the grounds of the Sewall-Belmont House]
The only thing we were conscious of was the Senate Office Building. There it was. Right in front of us. If we were hungry, we could go over to [there] and eat. And because we were National Woman's Party work people they were always gracious to us. It was a very nice little badge to be connected with anything with Alice Paul.
End Transcript.

Questions for Reading 3
1) What did Butler Franklin do at the Sewall-Belmont House? Where did she stay?

2) What rooms and features of the Sewall-Belmont House did Franklin mention in the interview? List them. Is this a building you would want to live in? Why or why not?

3) What do we learn about Alice Paul from Franklin's testimony? From this reading, what evidence is there that the Sewall-Belmont House was part of Alice Paul's strategy for the National Woman's Party? How did she use it to build a relationship with federal officials?

4) Do you think Franklin is a reliable source of information? Why or why not? What are the benefits of an oral history as a source of information about the past? What are the drawbacks?

1Howard W. Smith was a Congressman from Virginia's 8th district from 1931-1967. He became chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Rules in 1955. Smith supported the National Woman's Party and was responsible for including sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Determining the Facts

Reading 4: Excerpts from “Mrs. Wiley is Guest of Honor”

In 1930, Anna Wiley hosted a party to celebrate her new position as the chair of the national council for the National Woman's Party and to celebrate the opening of the new headquarters. The following text is excerpts from the speech she gave at the party.

I bid you all welcome to our new Headquarters in the name of the organization which I represent. . . . .
The real purpose of this tea is to show you our beautiful new headquarters and to tell you that you are at all times welcome here to join us, to consult with us, to secure any information we may have. In other words, to work with us in every way for the benefit of women.

I regret that our national president, Mrs. Belmont, is not here with us to welcome you, but I rejoice that Miss Paul could take time from her legal research to come and be with us. We hope that Mrs. Belmont will come to America in the spring to dedicate these headquarters, at which time we trust that you will all participate.

This historic and beautiful building is the gift to the National Woman's Party of Mrs. O.H.P. Belmont and bears her name, as we call it the Alva Belmont House. Mrs. Belmont will go down to history as a pioneer. She was a pioneer suffragist, and when that question was settled by the Nineteenth Amendment, she again was a pioneer in the effort to secure the removal of the disabilities against women in the law. When many women wanted to go home and rest, after the suffrage campaign was over, she gave the advice that we could not afford to rest, that our work was not yet done and that we must go on. Now that this question of discriminations against women has entered the international field, again it is Mrs. Belmont who by her influence and generous financial assistance is helping to wage the campaign against the introduction of an unjust codification of the world law on nationality to be drawn at The Hague next March.

Speaking of herself in the Ladies' Home Journal of September, 1922, Mrs. Belmont said:

‘ Someone must pay the price in criticism, even in ostracism, for every advance which the world makes. The blazing of the trail by the pioneer is never an easy task. * * * Today the world holds up its hands in horror over something which tomorrow it will have to accept as an established fact.' . . . .

This building is one of the most ancient in the city. It has always been the good fortune of the Woman's Party to have as its headquarters (since we moved from the tiny basement room on F street, where Miss Paul formed this organization) an historic building, viz., the Don Cameron mansion and the General Sickles residence (both on Lafayette Park), the historical ‘Old Brick Capitol,' which we have just left, and now this ancient house, the home of the Sewell family of Maryland. The original house is said to have been built in 1772, twenty-two years before the city was built. Another account gives it that Robert Sewell bought the land at sale on January 29, 1799, and that the house was built the next year. For a time the house was rented by Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury. In August, 1814, the house is said to have been destroyed by the British in retaliation for a shot fired by some one, no one knows who, because the family had fled, which shot mortally wounded the horse ridden by the British General Ross. The house was rebuilt the next year. Until 1876 the house remained in the hands of a Robert Sewell. It then passed by marriage to the Dangerfield family until 1892, when at the death of Senator Barbour (whose wife was a Dangerfield) the house became the subject of lawsuits and litigation. In 1922 it was purchased by Senator Porter H. Dale of Vermont, from whom we bought the house in March, 1929.

Perhaps it is not altogether strange that the National Woman's Party should always inhabit venerable structures because the subject of its program is as venerable as the world itself, being none other than justice, simple justice to half the human race.

Questions for Reading 4
1) How many National Woman's Party headquarters does Wiley mention? Apart from being NWP headquarters, what do they all have in common? Why does Wiley believe the Sewell-Belmont House is a good building for the NWP to use?

2) Wiley talks about Mrs. Belmont and mentions Alice Paul. What is Mrs. Belmont doing in 1930? How does this work build on the suffrage movement? What kinds of laws do you think Alice Paul might be studying? Why?

3) Wiley quotes Alva Belmont. Who do you think paid “the price in criticism, even in ostracism, for” women's advancement in politics and society in the 20th century? How did those people pay it? What things do you think you and your classmates “accept as an established fact” today that people were horrified by 100 years ago? Why?

4) How do Mrs. Belmont and Mrs. Wiley view their role in human history? Are they humble or proud about their struggle? What evidence in this reading supports your answer?

Reading 4 contains parts of a speech published in Equal Rights on February 15, 1930 in Vol. 16, No. 2, found in the National Woman's Party archives in Washington, DC. Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman's Party

Visual Evidence

Photo 1: 144 Constitution Ave, NE (circa 1921-1935).
B&W image of house from an angle

(Library of Congress)

Photo 2: 144 Constitution Ave, NE (1990s).
Black and white image house under construction

(National Park Service)

Questions for Photos 1-2

1) What kind of neighborhood do you see in Photo 1? What kinds of buildings? Do you think this is a good place for the National Woman's Party headquarters? Why or why not? What else is nearby? (Refer back to Map 1 if necessary)

2) Does this look like an office building to you? Why or why not? Why do you think the NWP would pick a building like this for its headquarters? (Refer back to Reading 3 if necessary)

3) Compare photos 1 and 2. What changed in the area between the 1920s and the 1990s? Does it look like the headquarters itself changed very much? Do you think the National Woman's Party would choose this site to base their headquarters today? Do you think this is an appropriate place for a lobbying organization? Why or why not?

Visual Evidence

Photo 3: Lobbying Congress for the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1923.
Gathering of women outside of the Capitol

(Library of Congress)

This publicity photo shows a group of National Woman's Party members in front of the Capitol Building. According to the caption from the Library of Congress, these “young members of the National Woman's Party … are about to invade the offices of the senators and congressmen from their states, to ask them to vote for Equal Rights. In the foreground is Miss Anita Pollitzer, secretary of the National Woman's Party, instructing the committee on the method of approach.”1

Questions for Photo 3

1) During the suffrage campaign lobbying Congress took a back seat to pressuring the President. When the ERA was introduced in 1923, Congress became the focus of the National Woman's Party. Why do you think this might have been the case? What changed between 1919 and 1923?

2) This photo was probably taken as part of the National Woman's Party publicity campaign accompanying the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment for the first time in 1923. What role do you think a photo like this would have in the campaign? Who do you think was the intended audience?

3) How are these women dressed? The National Woman's Party has been criticized for being almost entirely made up of prosperous, educated, middle class women who mostly ignored the needs and problems of working women and African Americans. Based on this photo, do you think these might be valid criticisms? Why or why not?

1 A group of young members of the National Woman's Party before the Capitol... 1923. Records of the National Woman's Party, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Accessed June 12, 2013 online.

Visual Evidence

Photo 4: Inside the Belmont House (circa 1941).
B&W image of women working in an office space

(Courtesy of the Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, home of the historic National Woman’s Party)

Questions for Photo 4

1) What pieces of furniture can you identify in this room? What is sitting on the desks in the foreground? Based on these items, what kind of room do you think this is?

2) Who do you think these women work for and what do you think they are doing? (Refer back to Reading 3 if necessary)

3) What do you think these women did for the National Women's Party in Washington, DC? Imagine their day and describe what tasks they might do, who they might talk to, and where they might go. What objects in the room help you tell their story? (Refer back to Readings 2 and 3 if necessary)

Visual Evidence

Drawing 1: Second Floor Plan, Sewall-Belmont House.

Blueprint of second floor

(Historic American Buildings Survey)

Questions for Drawing 1

1) Find Alice Paul's bedroom on Drawing 1. From 1929 until 1972, this was where she made her home when she was in Washington. The room was furnished with some of her own furniture. Why do you think she would have wanted to live here? What do you think the advantages would have been for her? What might have been the disadvantages?

2) Go back and review Reading 3. What attitude does Alice Paul seem to have toward the house and who was allowed to stay there? Can you find the little room that Butler Franklin stayed in?

3) What are the other spaces in this floor plan? Are they for personal or "business" use? What does that indicate about how Alice Paul lived her life? How do you think that might benefit the cause? How do you think it would affect the person?

Visual Evidence

Drawing 2: “Alice Paul Author of the ERA” poster.
Poster of Alice Paul

(Artwork by Lucy Picco Simpson, courtesy of Barry Simpson)

Caption, bottom right of poster: “--Comment of the psychiatrist called to examine Alice Paul while she was in prison in 1917. She was on a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment for leading a women's suffrage demonstration outside the White House. Alice Paul wrote the original Equal Rights Amendment, introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1923 and reintroduced in every Congress until approved for submission to the states in 1972.”

Questions for Drawing 2

1) What does this poster illustrate? When do you think it might have been created? Why? What might the dates signify? Where is Alice Paul in the poster? Who are the people in the back and where are they?

2) Why do you think the artist choose the psychiatrist's quote, “She will die, but she will never give up”? What do you think the psychiatrist meant? What do you think it means here?

3) What happened in 1977? What was the status of the ERA? Why does the author connect 1977 to 1913? (Refer back to Readings 1 and 2, if necessary)

Putting It All Together

In A Woman's Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women's Rights, students learn about Alice Paul, her activist tactics, lobbying strategies, and about how early 20th century women's movements were about more than suffrage. The following activities will provide students with a deeper understanding of American political liberty and activism through independent research and/or interviews.

Activity 1: Organizing for Reform
Students read about several different pro-suffrage organizations in this lesson, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were many groups working for women's rights during the 20th century. Break students up into small groups and assign each group one of the organizations. Each group must work together to research their organization and then use what they learned to create a PowerPoint presentation, illustrated with images related to their organization and major points marked with bullets. In the presentations, students should describe the organization's mission, how and why it fought for women's suffrage, the background of its founder or founders, the location of the organization's headquarters, and a brief history of the organization including what the organization did after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Have each group present its PowerPoint to the class. You might also consider arranging to have students give their presentations to other classes or at an event hosted by the local historical society, museum, or library.
Organizations to choose from include,
  • “American Woman Suffrage Association”
  • “National American Woman Suffrage Association”
  • “National Woman's Party”
  • “National Association of Colored Women”
  • “Woman's Christian Temperance Union”
  • “International Woman Suffrage Alliance”
  • “Women's Peace Party”

Activity 2: The 20th Century Woman
An oral history is a historical document created by recording or transcribing another person's recollections of the past. Oral histories are collected by interviewing a person with a unique connection to a story you are interested in and intentionally gathering information about that story with prepared questions, like Kathleen Hunter did when she spoke to Butler Franklin.

Have the students create their own oral histories by interviewing an adult female family member or family friend about life in the 20th century. Students should submit a list of 10 questions they plan to ask their subject. Several of these questions should be crafted so the answers will reveal information about the experiences of women in the 20th century.

After coming up with questions, students will use an audio recording device (or A/V device) to capture the oral history and then use a word processor to transcribe it. Students should submit the transcription to you for a class oral history book that can be published in a blog online or printed for your students to take home with them.

After students have had a chance to review the class oral history book, hold a class discussion about how reliable oral histories are. Some of the subjects may have described the same events or people, so students may want to compare and contrast these descriptions. Explain to students that there are several “tests” historians use to determine the trustworthiness of an oral history. Pass out this short list of four issues to each student and ask them to use it to critique their own interviews.

Lucid memory: What evidence is there that the subject's memory is generally clear and lucid? Is there any evidence that he/she has difficulty tracking events?

Personal connection to the people and events: What, if any, is the subject's connection to the events or people he/she talks about? For how long did your subject know people she talked about? How close was your subject to the events and to the people? Do you think she was close enough to be an expert on those events and people?

Knowledge of details: Did your subject know a lot about the details of the events or people he/she described? Which details? What do you think was left unclear or unsaid?

Telescoping time and events: It is not uncommon for people, especially elderly people, to collapse time and events. Sometimes whole generations are missing. Sometimes people and events get placed in the wrong time period. Because of this, historians use other sources to check how close the oral history matches what other people said or wrote about the same things. Where can you go to fact-check the information about the events and people your subject talked about?

Service learning
To turn this activity into a service learning project, have your students design a series of exhibit posters that use the best anecdotes or quotations from their interviews to illustrate the "20th century women" theme. Contact your local library or historical society and offer them the exhibit and the oral history audio recordings with transcriptions. They may want to add these oral histories to their website and put the posters on display for the public.

Activity 3: Beyond the Voting Booth
Charismatic leaders like Alice Paul often show up during America's great moments in civil rights history. Like Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr., they spent their lives and energy working toward a political goal, not on a common profession or their families. But their success depended on the small works of ordinary people. How do people in your community make a difference? Use this activity to find out.

Invite a city council member, county commissioner, or other local representative to speak to students about how people make their voices heard by their lawmakers. Before the speaker arrives, have students go through newspapers and identify three or four political issues they can ask the speaker about. Each student should submit to you three questions they want to ask the politician about how ordinary people can work to influence these issues apart from voting. Point out to your students that they are disenfranchised until they turn 18, assuming they're American citizens. How can people without a vote influence government? You can choose the questions you think will provoke the best answers from the guest speaker and ask for volunteers to read each question. After the event, hold a class discussion about what methods the students think are the most effective.

Consider expanding this activity to include a service learning component. Have the students individually choose a public cause to support. Students can choose to attend a public meeting outside of school, after which they should write a report on what they witnessed at the meeting, or they can write a letter to a politician and ask him or her to consider their concerns about an issue that affects their lives. Each letter should reflect an understanding of the issue based on the student's own research.

Activity 4: Histories of Liberties

Have students use the U.S. Constitution, other primary source documents, their history textbooks, and online resources to create a timeline of American laws that expanded and restricted political rights for specific groups living in the United States today. Each student should choose one group to study. For example: African Americans, Native Americans, 18-20 year-olds, women, Latinos, Americans without land, immigrants, etc. The timeline can cover any period of time, but it should result in a clear narrative about that group's experience. Students can draw their timeline on construction paper or they can use a digital timeline creation tool, like TimeGlider or TikiToki, to publish their research online. Not all timelines about the same group need to include all the same events, and students can draw from state laws as well as federal laws. Let students decide what is important and then defend their choices. After they create these timelines, have each student write a page-long narrative with a thesis statement about the group that describes the timeline of laws they chose.

A Woman’s Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women’s Rights--
Supplementary Resources

This lesson plan scratches the surface of the histories of Alice Paul, Alva Belmont, the Sewall-Belmont House, and 20th century women's political movements. The following resources provide more information on these subjects:

American Family History and Folklife Online Resource
The Library of Congress hosts the American Folklife Center's American Family History and Folklife Online Resource. This oral history resource offers information about important American oral history projects and guides for people interested in recording oral histories within their families and communities.

American Women
The Library of Congress' American Women gateway resource provides information about the Library of Congress' collections related to women's history. One collection is Women of Protest, which contains photographs from the records of the National Woman's Party as well as essays about the women's rights movement and leaders.

The Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution
The Equal Rights Amendment website is a collaborative project run by the Alice Paul Institute and the National Council of Women's Organizations ERA Task Force. It is an up-to-date resource about the status of the ERA in the state legislatures and in Congress. It also includes information about the history of the ERA and the strategy used to push for ratification.

Sewall-Belmont House & Museum (now the Belmont-Paul House) home of the historic National Woman’s Party
The Sewall-Belmont House & Museum, now the Belmont-Paul House, website provides a wealth of information about the histories of the House and the National Woman's Party, as well as access to its digital online collections of photos, objects, and documents related to the NWP. Visit the website for more information about planning a trip to see the Sewall-Belmont House for a guided tour or to attend a public program.

Suffragists Oral History Project
UC Berkley's Bancroft Library website hosts transcribed oral histories collected from prominent women of the suffrage movement and later women's movement. Alice Paul is one of 12 women interviewed and participated in this project in 1975, two years before her death.

The M'Clintock House: A Home to the Women's Rights Movement
A lesson plan from Teaching with Historic Places focuses on the beginning of the 19th century women's rights movement and the importance of the M'Clintock House, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott drafted the "Declaration of Sentiments" days before the Seneca Falls Convention.

Teach Civics with this Lesson

Last updated: June 9, 2023